Hacking the 2024 Boston Olympics

A new website gives residents a chance to come up with creative ways to use the city's existing infrastructure to better host the Summer games.

While there’s been a blurred line between those supporting and opposing hosting the Olympics in Boston in 2024, one thing has been clear: some people feel as though their voices haven’t been heard throughout the bid process to bring the games to the area.

Tom Rutledge wants to change that.

Earlier this month, with help from a website design firm in Salem, Rutledge launched a new landing page called “Boston 2024 Hacks,” a place where residents with innovative ideas can submit suggestions and “address the games’ challenges” in case the weeks-long competition does come to Massachusetts.

“I’ve always thought there were some great ideas all around Boston. There’s just some great innovation going on, and it seemed like there’s a big debate—a big conversation—around Boston hosting the Olympics,” said Rutledge. “I just felt it was time to start flushing these ideas out, and getting them out to the public and getting people talking about them.”

It started with an Op-Ed in the Boston Globe published in August, called “Boston’s Intellect Could Boost Olympic Bid,” which Rutledge co-wrote with Andrew W. Lo, a professor at the MIT Sloan School of Management.

It was in that editorial that Lo and Rutledge challenged Boston2024, the group spearheading the bid to get the United States Olympic Committee to pick Boston as a host city, to “think beyond” stadiums, swimming pools, and dorms, and really tap into the community for innovative ideas.

“That was the motivation behind the Op-Ed piece at first,” said Rutledge. “And as a follow-up, we wanted to make it a living, breathing thing. So we said, ‘let’s get a forum online to get people talking about it.’”

And so they did.

Billed as a “community forum,” participants from both camps can send their “hacks,” updates, or general information about the Olympic bid to Rutledge, who then posts the suggestions and thoughts, pulled from the general public, onto the “Boston 2024 Hacks” site.

“I think the way the Olympics conversation has happened so far has been framed as ‘do you want to do it, or don’t you want to do it.’ But this is a long-range conversation that not only goes to 2024, but goes beyond,” he said. “We need to think about how the world is going to change, and how we are going to tackle the changes in the coming years.”

So far, Rutledge has separate categories for each idea floated his way. On the site, visitors can find information and ideas about “money hacks,” “structural hacks,” “civic hacks,” and “tech and innovation hacks.” Each category is meant to drive a conversation by crowdsourcing “deep expertise” for each specific challenge the city could face if Boston is selected.

“We’ve got a critical mass of content now,” said Rutledge. “I’ve had a lot of conversations with a lot of interested parties. Everybody agrees that this is an opportunity to do a lot of thinking about where Boston is going to go. I have been able to get ideas from both [pro- and anti-Olympic supporters] side-by-side, which I think is a first.”

Rutledge said moving forward, he doesn’t want the site to be a place to merely debate and argue about whether or not Boston is a good fit for the summer games. Instead, he said the most important thing is to generate ideas that offer solutions to problems presented by critics of the games, and get the two side working together by fostering an online community setting.

“It’s not a comment section,” he said. “I’m actively going out and seeking people to contribute. I want to get a lot of different perspectives. I’m eager for people to keep sending ideas in.”